On any given night in the span of over three decades, you could find Butch either driving or wrenching on a race car, whether it was a NEMA or ARDC midget, a super modified, a stock car, a sprint car, a modified, or even a motorcycle. He lived and breathed racing for most of his life. He was a skilled automotive technician who at a very young age began racing stock cars at the famed Norwood Arena. Long-time racing observer Bruce Cohen remembers his first effort - "a white car that had 'Mom's Worry' written on it." But his affair with the NEMA midgets is of most interest. According to Butch’s own story, his midget racing career all started in an old barn full of junk. He was hired to clean it out and that’s where he found an old abandoned midget with a dust-covered Ford V8-60.
As he was trucking the old midget and the rest of the junk down the road, a local stopped him and told him about the NEMA midget’s coming to Westboro Speedway later on that month. Butch spent the next two weeks getting the old barn find running and on May 21st, 1966 at Westboro Speedway, Butch drove in the very first midget racing event he had ever seen. Unfortunately, he did not qualify for that feature, but he made all the others that season and was named the 1966 NEMA Rookie of the year.
After catching the midget bug, Butch would grab a ride anytime he could, or drive his own Offy powered midget at times. During the late sixties and early seventies, Butch towed for thousands of miles and spent thousands of hours repairing his and other cars. In 1971, he became totally dedicated to racing, running the full NEMA schedule and spending his days off dirt racing with ARDC, an agenda he would continue for years to come. In addition to that, he raced modifieds and super modifieds up until the late-seventies in his spare time. Among the cars Walsh worked on were the ARDC championship machines of Mike Sheehan. It was during that time that Walsh pulled off one of his most astonishing accomplishments - running one Friday night on the dirt at Grandview, PA and the next night on the pavement at Caribou Maine’s Spud Speedway – a twelve-hour trek without traffic. He then topped off the weekend by making the NEMA show at Unity Raceway that Sunday afternoon. It involved a trip of several hundred miles in one night. "Butch just did things like that," said Cohen, a friend since the early 1970s. "There are lots of Butch Walsh stories. He was smart and creative but effective as well."
Butch’s first midget victory came at Maine's Wiscasset Speedway driving for Jerry Connors in 1972. The following season he wound-up in the famous Scrivani family machine in 1973. He won the championship that year with fourteen top-four finishes highlighted by a victory at Westboro, a significant accomplishment at the time considering he did it in a traditional upright during the surge of the Badger revolution. "My father, of course, had known Butchie for some time and figured he was going pretty good in less-then top of the line cars," Mike Scrivani Jr recalled. Butch Walsh would become the first race car driver to have his name inscribed on a Scrivani owned midget.
"That was very significant", says Mike Scrivani Jr recalling a number of stories about Butch. "The old man had a lot of great drivers, but Butchie was the first one he considered a ‘steady’ driver." Over the next twelve years, Butch continued his success winning in Dick Bien's badgers, a combination that would earn this fantastic duo eight feature wins in just three seasons. He then scored two more feature victories in the Dunn #T5 Badgers over the next couple years, which was in between wrenching and driving his own rear engine machine he affectionately referred to as "the Pancake". Time and time again he proved to not only be great with a wheel in his hand, but also a wrench. Every car he drove, including the Connors, Scrivani, Bien and Dunn machines, he helped work on and prepare for each race. Mike Scrivani Jr credits Butch with teaching him about the importance and dedication to having the car ready for each race.
People say you have to be fearless to drive a race car, and Butch was certainly that, but the quality extended well beyond the cockpit. He was unafraid to try new things, unafraid to learn. At the end of 1981, he was elected to NEMA president. During his tenure, he convinced the United States Auto Club to come out east to sanction events with NEMA and ARDC, giving local midget racers the opportunity to put their names in national record books. Big names like Rich Vogler, John Andretti, Mel Kenyon, among others made the trek from the Midwest to compete on NEMA and ARDC soil. Even without their wings, the NEMA stars shined and proved this club could run with the best in the country. He was also instrumental in NEMA’s moment on the big screen, when in 1983 footage from a Montreal race was featured in a French movie called “Le Ruffian”.
Butch’s very last ride in a NEMA midget came at the end of the 1986 season at Thompson’s World Series of Auto Racing. He hopped into the Nogueira Sesco Badger #98 and won the feature in demanding fashion in one of the toughest field of cars the club hadn’t seen in years. For the 1987 season, he was hired as the promoter for Riverside Speedway in Groveton, NH, providing NEMA with race dates that following year. He would continue racing into the late eighties and nineties but on two wheels, racing flat track motorcycles on dirt and ice, in addition to vintage road racing for which he was crowned champion one year in the mid nineties.
Throughout all his racing exploits, Butch remained a humble, unassuming man, grateful for the opportunity just to be able to get behind the wheel of a race car, never grabbing the spotlight, preferring it to shine on those around him. He was active to the end of his life, keeping in touch with his NEMA family members, attending NEMA races when his health allowed, and passionately lobbying for his friend and fellow Hall of Famer Wen Kelley to be inducted into the National Midget Hall of Fame. A few weeks before Butch passed away in 2015, it was announced that Wen would be inducted into the National Hall of Fame at The Chile Bowl in Oklahoma that January - as always his hard work had paid off.
Following Butch’s passing in the Fall of 2016, Chris Romano, a longtime NEMA member and journalist, described Butch perfectly: “...As the British would say, he was a proper bloke. A stand-up guy who left this joint better than he found it, and had a lot of fun along the way. We should all be so lucky!”
NEMA Win List
Year.....Date - Track - Car
1972........6/24 - Wiscasset Speedway - Connors #58
1973........9/15 - Westboro Speedway - Scrivani #22
1975........5/25 - Star Speedway - Scrivani #22
1975.........6/22 - Star Speedway - Scrivani #22
1975.........8/31 - Devils Bowl Speedway - Scrivani #22
1980.........5/03 - Waterford Speedbowl - Bien #35
1980.........7/13 - Westboro Speedway - Bien #35
1981.........5/23 - Westboro Speedway - Bien #35
1981.........5/30 - Waterford Speedbowl - Bien #35
1981..........6/13 - Westboro Speedway - Bien #35
1982..........7/17 - Westboro Speedway - Bien #35
1982..........8/01 - Hudson International Speedway - Bien #35
1982..........8/07 - Westboro Speedway - Bien #35
1984..........9/01 - Star Speedway - Dunn #T5
1984..........9/02 - Hudson International Speedway - Dunn #T5
1986.........10/19 - Thompson International Speedway - Nogueira #98
Classic NEMA Video
1986 Thompson World Series of Auto Racing NEMA Feature. Butch's very last NEMA race...
Courtesy of The MoonRacer1 Network
Courtesy of The MoonRacer1 Network
Inaugural Butch Walsh Memorial Race
May 21, 2016 at Star Speedway in Epping, NH
For more info please check the NEMA or Star Speedway websites